Lee Valley Tools Woodworking Newsletter
Vol. 1, Issue 3
March 2007
Featured Patents

Helb Level

Front view
   Front view of the Helb level.

J. Edward Helb patented this invention as a combined level and grade finder. The device shown is marked with patent No. 764,809 and a date of 1904. The actual filing date was June 17, 1905, with the patent being issued in October, 1907. According to the patent papers, the issue number is actually 868,089.

Close-up of the inclinometer dial and the level.

All known levels of this manufacture are 24” long. It is essentially a gravity inclinometer (a device that shows deviation from true vertical or horizontal), but it also incorporates conventional level vials, a compass, and a sighting tube. Incorporating these features into the tool gave carpenters, bricklayers, mechanics and others the ability to lay out grades and angles, and ascertain the heights of objects by using the complex scales on the cardboard dial behind the weighted indicator. The compass enabled one to perform simple surveying in conjunction with trigonometry tables.

Top view Sighting tube
Top view of the compass
and sighting tube.

  The other end
of the sighting tube.

This device is complex and its late manufacture date, combined with the attractiveness of construction (lots of brass and gizmos), has ensured that a relatively large number have survived intact. Often referred to as the railroad level, the misnomer can be attributed to Edward Helb’s residence of record, Railroad, Pennsylvania, printed on the face of the dial.

To read the original patent in its entirety, please continue on to the next page.

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